From time to time we receive emails from homeschool parents looking for opportunities for socializing their children. We’re always glad to hear from parents who take their children’s socialization seriously. It’s important for homeschool parents to remember that when they begin homeschooling they take not only their child’s education but also their child’s socialization into their hands. Ensuring that your child receives the social interaction they need while being educated at home may take some thought and effort, but it absolutely can be done—we have some tips that may help along the way!
Before you start, you may be interested in some articles on socialization published elsewhere on our website. You can take a look at our summary of the research on homeschooling and socialization, Dr. Chelsea McCracken’s overview of what socialization entails, and a Q&A with two homeschool graduates about the importance of social interaction. Happy reading!
And now, on to a non-exhaustive list of socialization opportunities for your child!
Homeschool support groups, co-ops, field trip groups, and park dates all offer opportunities for your child to socialize with other children and make friends. You can search for these groups online; some groups are now on facebook, so you may want to search there as well. The website a2zhomeschooling.com offers lists of homeschool support groups by state (not reviewed or vetted by our organization) and may be a good place to get started. Remember that some homeschool groups have specific religious or pedagogical beliefs, and that you may have to look around a bit to find one that fits you, your child, and your homeschooling style.
Public School Extracurriculars
You may be homeschooling your child, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look to your local public school for opportunities! Some states require public schools to allow homeschooled students to participate in extracurriculars at the school they would have attended while others leave it up to the school district. Contact your local public school to ask whether they allow homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular activities and to ask for a list of available clubs or activities (including sports). You may also be able to find some information on the school’s website.
Classes, Clubs, and Beyond!
When it comes to classes and clubs, the sky’s the limit! You can sign your children up for classes (martial arts, gymnastics, or ballet) and enroll them in clubs (Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, or 4-H) but this is only the beginning. While the opportunities available to you and your child will vary depending on the area you live in, here are some ideas to get you started:
- Parks and Recreation: Take a look at your community parks and recreation department’s programming for children, including community sports leagues and summer camps.
- YMCA: Your local YMCA likely offers sports classes, swim team, and summer camps, along with other programming for children. They may also offer childcare for younger children or group-play for middle or older children while parents exercise.
- The Library: Find out if your local library has a lego club or book clubs for children. They may also have teen nights and other events for children. Depending on your children’s age, take advantage of your library’s weekly story time offerings!
- Colleges and Universities: Your local community college or university likely offers opportunities for children, including both younger children and teens. You may have to search by department or watch your community’s events calendar.
- Religious Communities: If you belong to a church or other religious community, Sunday school, youth group, children’s choir, summer Bible school, and other programming may offer opportunities for your child to socialize with their peers.
- The Park: Pay attention to when your local park is the busiest and take your child there to play with other children. If they befriend another child while playing, swap numbers with that child’s parent so you can set up another playdate.
- Museums and Zoos: Look for children’s programming at local museums, zoos, and related organizations, including art galleries, children’s museums, nature centers, or aquariums.
- Community Productions: Sign your child up for a local children’s choir or youth orchestra or involve your family in a community theater production.
- Area Nonprofits: Many local nonprofits offer programming for children, especially those centered on the arts, education, or youth development. You can search GuideStar for local nonprofits.
- Other: Find out if your local gaming store has children’s gaming events or regular meet-ups.
As you weigh opportunities like those above, remember that socialization is just as valid a reason for involving your children in a program as any content knowledge or skills your child will gain. Keep in mind that children have a developmental need for social interaction with their peers. Make sure to expose your child to many different avenues for socialization. As children work out who they are and where they fit in the world, they benefit from being exposed to a variety of different people and activities.
Make the Time
Weekly classes or clubs won’t satisfy your child’s need for social interaction. Children who attend school see other children daily, but ensuring that homeschooled children have sufficient time with their friends will take a bit more effort. Encourage your child to befriend other children in your neighborhood and welcome these neighbor kids into your home. Arrange times for your child to get together with friends who live elsewhere, whether at a park or museum or at each other’s houses. Give them time to develop relationships independent of you, and to build friendships outside of supervised activities—to sort through piles of legos, to build forts, and to play Minecraft. Remember, your child’s social wellbeing is just as important as their academic wellbeing.
Listen to Your Child
If your child tells you they’re lonely or need more time with friends, listen to them. When planning out what activities to have them involved in at the beginning of the year, get their input. Ask your child what they’re interested in, and what they’re looking for in terms of friends and time with friends. Every child is different—some are more introverted while others are more extroverted—so you shouldn’t assume you automatically know what your child needs—or that what one needs is the same as what another needs—without asking for their input. Your child may also need help making new friends; make sure to talk with them about what being a friend looks like, and to help them plan strategies for making new ones.
As your child grows older, they should have both more input in their activities and more peer time away from direct parental supervision. The teenage years especially are a time of transition for children as they grow towards greater independence. This may mean letting your child hang out with their friends at the mall, or dropping your child off at the movie theater to see a show with their friends. Working a part-time job may also give your child the opportunity to gain independence and develop skills while meeting new people or making new friends. Listen to your child and their needs as they navigate the transition from child to adult.
While homeschooled children can be well socialized—both in terms of learning to navigate social situations and in terms of having adequate social interaction for their development—don’t assume it will happen automatically. Listen to your child, be on the lookout for new opportunities, and be willing to make changes if things aren’t working.
If you’re interested in reading more of our resources for homeschooling parents, click through!